Rekha, the eternal diva of Bollywood turned 61 today (October 10). Over a career that spans over four decades, the actor has appeared in more than forty films. Besides leaving a mark in commercial cinema, she has also produced a huge body of work in arthouse/parallel cinema. Winner of one National Award for her performance in the 1981 period romance Umrao Jaan, three Filmfare Awards and a Padma Shri in 2010, Rekha is without a doubt one of the most evergreen actors of Indian cinema.
However, as much as she was known, appreciated and respected for her talent, her personal life was always under scrutiny because of the patriarchal film world’s prudishness and the media’s incessant curiosity. She has had a tumultuous romantic life – all the more reason for the Indian janta to always speak of her with a certain kind of reservation because she never fit into moralistic, middle-class ideas of who and what a woman should be.
Nevertheless, till kingdom come, Rekha’s life will always be a mystery to one and all, especially because she is so reluctant to give interviews to the press.
Here are ten facts about Rekha you probably did not know…
1. Rekha (birth name: Rekha Ganesan) was born in a Chennai household to Tamil actor Gemini Ganesan and Telugu actor Pushpavalli. Gemini Ganesan and Pushpavalli were not married at the time of her birth and Gemini did not acknowledge that he was the father throughout Rekha’s childhood. In fact, it was the poor financial state of the family that forced Rekha to turn to acting.
2. Rekha has one sister, five half sisters and a half brother; all from the same father, Gemini Ganesan. Even though Rekha and her cousins have different mothers, the actor is closely attached to them.
3. Rekha started off as a child actor in the 1966 Telugu film Rangula Ratnam. She made her film debut as a heroine in the 1969 Kannada film Operation Jackpot Nalli C.I.D 999. That same year, she made her Hindi film debut with Anjana Safar.
4. The Umrao Jaan actor did not reveal her parentage for a long, long time. In the early ’70s, when she was beginning her career in Bollywood, she revealed the truth about her origins.
5. On the sets of Anjana Safar, a clueless 15-year-old Rekha was forced into a five-minute long smooching scene by star Biswajeet Chatterjee and the director Raja Nawathe.
6. Rekha was a fish out of water in the first ten years that she spent in Bombay. Coming from down south, she did not know Hindi and thus struggled to communicate with her cast and crew. She constantly missed her mother who was critically ill. She also had to maintain a strict diet.
She shed light on her struggling years in an interview with Simi Garewal.
7. Rekha was not considered as a top heroine for quite some time. Her dark looks, plump figure and the loud clothing she wore in her films made her contemporaries scornful about her. It was not until Rekha starred with Amitabh Bachchan in Do Anjaane (1976) and played the role of a rape victim in Ghar (1978), that people started to take her seriously as an actor.
8. On returning with rumoured husband actor Vinod Mehra to his house, after getting ‘married’ in Calcutta, Mehra’s mother was angry with Vinod for having married Rekha. When Rekha went to touch her mother-in-law’s feet, she, reportedly, pushed her away. She kept insulting and abusing Rekha and even, went as far as to assault the poor woman with her sandals. It took Vinod to settle issues between his mother and Rekha.
9. Rekha attended Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh’s wedding on January 22, 1980, wearing sindoor and a mangalsutra! The marriage took place at RK Studios and was attended by the who’s who of the film industry including Amitabh Bachchan along with his wife Jaya and parents. According to those present at the marriage that evening, Rekha made a ‘sensational entry’, wearing a spectacular white sari, with a red bindi on her forehead, and, well, red sindoor on her hair.
According to a Cine Blitz report on the events of that night, Rekha walked up to the centre of RK Studios’ garden and stood there. But her eyes kept wandering towards Amitabh Bachchan who was speaking to director Manmohan Desai. Soon, Rekha walked up to Amitabh and began talking. They were seen conversing formally, but according to a report in Stardust magazine, “Jaya tried to keep a stoic front for a long time, but eventually she had to bend her head and let the tears roll down.”
10. Within a month of knowing businessman Mukesh Agarwal, Rekha married him and settled down. However, Rekha did not known at the time of courtship or marriage that Agarwal suffered from chronic depression, which apparently, ran in his family. Agarwal was also, reportedly, involved with his psychiatrist ‘Akash Bajaj’.
Rekha simply could not handle the pressure of living the constantly troubled, suspicious, jealous and erratic Mukesh Agarwal and distanced herself from the man. Mukesh committed suicide, a mere seven months after his marriage to Rekha, and the press, the film fraternity and the nation’s people began blaming and slandering Rekha for her husband’s death. This period was one of the toughes times of Rekha’s life. But like always, she rose above it and reinvented herself anew.